Success stories in ads for online dating services can make it sound like true love is just a click away. However, consumers must be aware of the limitations, costs and terms of the services as well as the potential for fraud if your match turns out to be a thief.

“While some consumers have found happiness using a dating service, others have been disappointed in the quality or number of matches, while still others have fallen victim to scams from would-be suitors,” said Stephanie Garland, BBB Springfield Regional Director. “Meeting people online may sound easy and safe, but consumers need to keep their guard up to avoid being swindled, hurt or worse.”

BBB received nearly 1,500 complaints about dating services last year. Many concerning  billing and collection issues. Poor customer service, refund issues, advertising or sales practices also prompt complaints. Often, customers complain that it is difficult to cancel the service because it is automatically renewed.

Even if you don’t sign up for a dating service, romance scams through social media and email are quite common. Law enforcement and other agencies get thousands of complaints every year from people who have lost money through online dating or social media or email connections. Criminals posing as potential romantic “matches” may lead victims on for a while, then suddenly claim they’ve got big medical bills or some other emergency need for money. Some criminals are overseas, making it difficult for authorities to pursue them or for victims to get their money back.

A Highland, Illinois, woman reported losing $7,000 to a romance scam in September 2020. She told BBB Scam Tracker that after she had been chatting online with a man for four months, he requested $7,000 in iTunes gift cards. When she said she could not afford to do that, he made two $3,500 deposits in her bank account, and she used the funds to buy the gift cards for him. She said shortly after the second purchase, her bank informed her the deposits were invalid.

BBB published an in-depth investigative study on these romance scams in 2018, as well as a follow-up study in 2019 about the potential for romance scam victims to be used as money mules. These are available at bbb.org/scamstudies.

Consumers need to make sure they understand what they are signing up for when they use an online dating service. Read any contracts, terms or conditions carefully to understand how you will be charged and what you need to do to cancel. Some consumers complained that they signed up for a free trial, but their credit cards were charged before they could cancel.

BBB offers the following advice on matchmaking and online dating services:

• Don’t fall in love with the advertising. Be skeptical of claims such as “an exclusive network of people,” “for sincere daters only” or “beautiful singles just like you.”

• Don’t give in to high-pressure sales tactics. Sales associates may tell you that a low price is only good for that day and ask you to sign a contract immediately. You should read the contract carefully and make sure you understand it.

• Know how to break up. Consumers should not assume that they will stop being billed once the contract runs out. Many online dating sites automatically renew memberships. Usually you must call the company or send written instructions to avoid being billed again. Read cancellation policies before you sign up.

• Beware of demands by a match to send money. Some scams that match men with foreign women typically include a request to send money to pay for a trip to the United States, using a wire transfer service like MoneyGram or Western Union. The woman never makes the trip, and the money can’t be recovered.

• Do your homework. Ask to speak to other members or customers of the service about their experiences. Check a BBB Business Profile of the service by going online to bbb.org or by calling 888-996-3887.